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What is a Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon?

If your child has musculoskeletal (bone) problems, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon has the experience and qualifications to treat your child.

What Kind of Training Do Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeons Have?

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who have

  • Graduated from an approved medical school
  • Graduated from an approved orthopedic surgery residency program
  • Completed additional subspecialty training in pediatric orthopedics

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons treat children from the newborn stage through the teenage years. They choose to make pediatric care the core of their medical practice, and the unique nature of medical and surgical care of children is learned from advanced training and experience in practice.

What Types of Treatments Do Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeons Provide?

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons diagnose, treat, and manage children’s musculoskeletal problems including the following:

  • Limb and spine deformities (such as club foot, scoliosis)
  • Gait abnormalities (limping)
  • Bone and joint infections
  • Broken bones

Why do I need a pediatric orthopedic specialist?

Children are not just small adults. Your growing bones are living tissues that change continuously and pose different challenges than those of adults. Adopting healthy nutritional and lifestyle habits are important choices to build healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis and fragility fractures later in life. The healthy habits that you adopt during your childhood and adolescence can literally make your bones stronger as you age. Some common pediatric problems don’t occur in adults, and what looks like a problem in a child may be just a variation that you will outgrow over time.

Nevertheless, some other bone disorders need an accurate orthopedic specialist’s evaluation and may require bracing or surgical intervention. Some bone disorders can be inherited, or caused by injuries, infections, poor blood supply or tumors. They can cause painless bone deformities and affect your ability to walk and use the limb.

Treatments depend on the disorder but often surgery may help, as it can put back in the right place your displaced bones before the cast, the splint or brace is put on. The orthopedic surgical procedure is called reduction which means “setting the bone”.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons, their supporting staff and their offices are all well equipped to deal with you and your family, in order to share the problem, decide the best treatment strategy and offer you a comfortable, patient-focused and family-friendly environment.

Pediatric orthopedic specialists provide kid-focused care

When it comes to your kids and teens getting the care they need, you want care that’s kid-focused from beginning to end. When you choose a pediatric orthopedic specialist, you’re choosing someone who understands and treats kids’ unique needs—both physical and emotional. That means things like kid-sized and kid-friendly casts, braces, waiting areas, rooms and communication.

Pain, tests and treatment affect growing kids differently than adults. Young kids haven’t developed the skills to understand why they can’t move during an MRI. And although kids’ fractures heal faster than adults’, it can be hard for a child to understand why they have to take it easy after an injury. That’s why we provide kid-focused care, including

Imaging that uses up to 50 percent lower doses of radiation than some adult providers

Innovative therapies that allow us to avoid overuse of prescription pain medications

Care for spinal conditions that goes beyond diagnosis to include more treatment options that grow with your child

Therapies and techniques that reduce the need for spine surgery

Three 24/7 Emergency Departments and several Urgent Care Centers for quick diagnosis and treatment

Child life specialists who explain procedures and treatment so kids understand

Pediatric Orthopedics versus Adult Orthopedics

Children are NOT simply little adults.

What separates pediatric orthopedics from adult orthopedics? Adults need hip replacements and children get fractures on the playground, right? Well, there is a little more to the difference between the two in the world of orthopedics. Even with the similar injuries adult and children’s bodies often have a different response. Pediatric orthopedic surgeons are specifically trained to evaluate and treat children.

Children’s Bone Anatomy

First of all, children’s bones are substantially different than adults. Infants start off with a skeleton made of cartilage that matures into calcified bone during the early years of development. In fact, during the first few weeks of life, ultrasounds are frequently used to examine children’s bones instead of x-rays. As children grow and develop, their bones have a softer structure than adults. The softer characteristic allows their bones to fracture or break in different ways than adult bones do. The biggest difference is the presence of growth plates in children’s bones. This greatly changes the ways doctors treat and care for injuries as well as bone and joint disorders in children.

Growth Plates

Children’s growth plates are the center for bone growth. Growth plates consist of developing cartilage tissue near the end of long bones. Bones grow from the ends where the growth plates are located. Fractures can occur within and near the growth plates. These require different types of treatment compared to similar injuries in adults to avoid later problems with growth. At times the growth of a bone near a fracture can even assist in the bone healing and correcting the fracture which adds to differences in treating kids versus adults. A pediatric orthopedic surgeon is specifically trained to care for and understand these differences which results in better care and outcomes for the patients.

Children’s Injuries

Because children’s bones are different from adult bones, fractures need to be treated differently. For instance, children’s bones heal quicker than adults. This means that children need to be evaluated by a pediatric orthopedic surgeon promptly to ensure that the fracture does not need to be manipulated. If a child’s fracture heals improperly a surgery may be needed to correct it. Also, children’s fractures do not typically need to be casted as long as adults due to the faster healing potential. Not only are fractures different in pediatrics, but also in sports injuries. For example, ACL tears in pediatrics require special surgical techniques that are completely different from adult ACL surgeries.

Syndromes, Deformities, and Gait Abnormalities

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons often evaluate and treat children with special needs, deformities, and developmental delays. This includes all portions of the musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, muscles) from the neck down the spine, arms, hands, legs and feet. Since children cannot always verbalize what is wrong, pediatric orthopedic surgeons know how to examine and treat children while keeping them calm and cooperative. These can be fairly complex and often make up a large portion of a pediatric orthopedics’ practice.

What Treatments and Procedures Does a Pediatric Orthopedist Do?

  • Casts, splints, and braces. Orthopedic doctors use casts to protect a bone while it heals or change the way the bone is growing. A cast can be made of plaster or fiberglass, and it keeps a bone from moving. A splint is like a partial cast that doesn’t cover the arm, leg, or other body part completely. A brace is used to restrict movement in a joint. Casts, splints, and braces are used for conditions such as broken bones, sprains, clubfoot, and scoliosis.
  • Assistive devices. Orthopedic doctors help children use walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, or special shoes when they need help with moving because of a problem with their bones, muscles, or joints.
  • Surgery. Orthopedic surgeons may use surgery to remove tumors orcysts, set broken bones, or correct bone deformities.

Pediatric orthopedists often work with other doctors and therapists, including physical therapists. Physical therapy is often an important part of recovery from any injury or surgery that involves the bones and muscles. It is also an important way to train children to strengthen their bodies and use them correctly to prevent future injury or correct walking problems.